Career Technical Education (CTE)
Edge Research and K12 Inc. surveyed the U.S. general public to develop a deeper understanding of public perception of the "skills gap"—the difference between what students learn in school and what they need to know to succeed in the jobs that are and will be available to them. This research explored what the general public and parents view as the root causes of the skills gap, and the best ways to ensure students leave the U.S. education system equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.
Americans overwhelmingly feel that their high school experience failed to equip them with skills necessary to succeed. This skills gap applies to soft skills, such as "knowing how to get ahead in the workforce" and "exposure to different career paths of interest," as well as hard skills, such as "computer skills" and "real-world skills needed for a job."
Parents of school-age children are especially sensitive to the skills gap and want a different high school experience for their children than they had. Parents want their children to come out of high school with critical thinking skills, real-world skills needed for a job, communication skills and computer skills.
Parents disagree with the conventional wisdom that a college degree is always best path to success, with more than three times as many parents saying two years of work experience is more valuable than a four-year liberal arts degree.
Three out of four parents say middle and high school is the best time for students to start exploring career paths. They also believe students should be exposed to career options and training through Career Technical Education (CTE) courses, with 90% of Americans surveyed saying CTE should be offered in every high school.
Nearly all respondents said CTE would be a good option for students who want to start a career immediately after high school and for students who are college-bound. There is also overwhelming enthusiasm for programs that combine online learning with in-class instruction, with 87% saying access to career-specific coursework online would help more people succeed in the workforce.
This research demonstrates that parents and the general public are enthusiastic about high school course options that will equip students with real-world skills, and that they want U.S. high schools to offer students more options tailored to skill development and job preparation.
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What's Really Better Workforce Training or Four-Year College?
Eight in ten respondents believe people entering the workforce lack necessary skills.
There is a skills gap in the U.S. today and the public recognizes it.
- Eight in ten survey respondents (82%) say that young people and those entering the workforce today are not equipped with the skills they need to succeed in the jobs available.
- This sentiment is consistent across generations – including Millennials.
- Survey respondents are particularly worried about jobs in the high demand, skilled trades. Just 13% believe job seekers have the skills they need to fill these positions.
Few surveyed give their high school an "A" in career preparation. More skill development and career exposure would improve the experience.
As the Americans in this survey reflect on high school and whether those years prepared them for the jobs they are doing today, few feel their school did an "excellent job."
- Only 12% of these Americans grade their high school as doing an "—Excellent job," and 23% grade their high school a "B—Very good job."
- Half (50%), instead, give their high school a "C," "D" or "F"—just an average to poor job.
Few respondents feel they got the following career preparation and skills in high school: knowing how to get ahead in the workforce (just 23% say they "definitely" received), computer skills (24%), exposure to different career paths of interest (26%), and real-world skills needed for a job (27%).
Parents envision a high school experience for their kids different from their own.
When it comes to what they experienced in high school versus what they want for their children, the glaring gap is around real world skills needed for a job. Only 30% of parents in this survey say they got these during high school, and yet 44% of these parents want their children to graduate with real-world skills.
U.S. parents who took the survey developed a variety of skills in high school. Topping the list of skills they “definitely” acquired: social skills (51%), communication skills (48%), and math and science skills (46%).
However, what respondents want for their children looks a bit different. Parents emphasize critical thinking first, followed by skills needed for career preparation. Thinking about their own children, the key skills parents want their children to come out of high school with (in order of magnitude) include:
- Critical thinking skills (51%)
- Real world skills needed for a job (44%)
- Communication skills (40%)
- Computer skills (35%)
These Americans say middle school and high school are the time to explore careers.
In conversations about career preparation, there is a lot of talk about timing. Educators and parents want to prepare students in advance but worry about starting too early. This data shows that majorities believe kids should start exploring careers as early as middle school and high school. In fact, one third of Americans in the survey (35%) think students should start exploring what they want to be or do for a career in middle school, and another four in ten respondents (41%) say students should start exploring career paths in high school.
Parents and non-parents have a similar outlook on this timing, as do Americans by generation. One interesting subgroup difference is that Americans with less education and lower household income in this survey believe more strongly that career exploration should happen as early as middle school.
Parents' advice: two years of work experience is more valuable than a liberal arts degree.
There appears to be a strong preference these days for experiential, career-focused learning opportunities over traditional forms of education, particularly when it comes to career preparation. When asked which of two opportunities would be more valuable, more than three times as many U.S. parents picked “two years of work experience” (56%) than picked “a four-year liberal arts degree” (16%).
Parents are not the only ones who think work and practical experience is valuable. In multiple questions, Millennial respondents showed a preference for career-focused learning in high demand areas. Among Millennial results:
- Three times as many Millennials choose exposure to careers in health care (53%) over biology class (15%)
- Almost three times as many Millennials choose exposure to business administration (48%) over economics class (17%)
- Twice as many choose a class designed to expose you to IT (48%) to a science class (23%)
- Almost twice as many Millennials choose exposure to manufacturing (45%) over physics class (20%)
Even when it comes to that milestone, the “senior class trip,” 67% of respondents say a one-month internship is a more valuable experience, compared to 9% who say the class trip.
There is nearly unanimous support for opportunities to learn real-world skills in high school. Almost all (95%) agree that all U.S. high school students should have more opportunities to learn real-world skills and study programs like manufacturing, IT, business management and health care.
Career Technical Education in every high school? 90% of Americans say "yes!"
To close the workforce skills gap and provide more meaningful educational experiences, nine in ten Americans surveyed (90%) agree that CTE should be offered in every high school in America. Among those more likely to agree:
- Families with direct experience taking career technical education (98%)
- Parents of school-aged children (94%)
- Lower income respondents (93%)
Most parents surveyed (87%) say, “I wish I had the opportunity to take CTE in school,” and 51% of them feel strongly about it.
Parents of school-aged children see CTE as a good option for a range of students, including:
- Those who want to succeed (97%)
- Those who want to start a career immediately after high school (96%), and
- Those who are college-bound (88%)
Much of the positive reception to career technical education is coming from younger demographics, including Millennials and Gen X. For example, among respondents:
- Millennials (86%) and Gen X (85%) are more likely than older generations to say CTE sounds like a good option for students who are college bound
- Millennials (83%) are more likely to say they wish they had the opportunity to take CTE in school
- Nearly all Millennial parents (97%) agree that they want their children to have an opportunity to take CTE
The country needs more CTE to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.
In the public’s mind, the result of CTE programs is a brighter future for students and a solution to workforce shortages in some of the country’s most critical industries.
- 90% of adults surveyed agree that our country needs more CTE to prepare our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow
- 88% say that CTE will help fill demand for highly-skilled workers
- 69% say that without CTE, we won’t have the workers or talent needed in high-growth areas like healthcare and engineering
Four in five parents surveyed are interested in CTE that combines online with in-classroom learning.
In addition to expressing interest in CTE, parents also express enthusiasm for programs that combine online learning with in-class instruction.
- Four in five parents (79%) are interested in CTE coursework and programs offered in a school environment that combines online learning with in-class instruction
- Nearly all parents (93%) agree that online learning is a great option for career training because it is more up-to-date and flexible
This data strengthens the argument that online learning has tremendous potential to help students and the country’s workforce.
- Four in five surveyed (81%) believe that students who have access to online career specific programs – in fields like manufacturing, IT, business management and health care - will be more successful in today’s workforce.
- 87% agree that having access to career-specific coursework online would help more people succeed in the workforce
One of the benefits of online CTE is that it offers students the chance to explore different fields and identify personal strengths. When we asked Americans about what they might have gained from taking CTE in high school:
- 52% of respondents thought they would have explored more fields and options
- 48% thought they would have learned more about unique strengths and weaknesses
- 37% thought they would have learned what they loved/hated to do
The survey was conducted among n=1001 U.S. adults in the general population, March 9-19, 2017. The survey used quota sampling to ensure it was representative of the U.S. Census on gender, age, race, ethnicity and region. It included an oversample of 200 parents of school age children (n=432 total) to look more closely at that group.
For this online survey, Edge Research engaged with a reputable, large opt-in panel in which survey exposure is monitored and limited. We used a non-probability sample to recruit participants, obtained from the online panel provider. While the findings are representative, they are not generalizable to all adult Americans.